The September international break is pretty much universally hated. Having been starved of club football throughout the summer, no sooner has it returned it is cruelly taken away from us. Not only are we desperate for league football to return, but with the transfer window coming to an end, many of us are also desperate to see any deadline day signings in action for their new teams.
For some clubs and managers however the break could not have come soon enough, and the likes of Chaves and Portimonense will be hoping they can now kickstart their seasons. Vitória made the first managerial change of the season and new coach Paulo Turra would have been grateful for the international break to spend some time on the training ground with his new team, putting his new ideas into practice.
The end of the international break also sees a new challenge present itself to the teams at the top end of the table, as we see the welcome headache of midweek European football come into play. As Benfica’s Roger Schmidt put it “the season starts in earnest after the break.” That is putting it mildly as Benfica, Porto, Braga and Sporting all have tough games in Europe to come. It’s a time when we’ll start to see these team’s psychological strength and squad depth tested properly for the first time.
Estrela da Amadora v Porto
Porto kick off the weekend action away to Estrela da Amadora on Friday. Perhaps the team I had the least amount of hope for, Estrela, have had a very solid start to the season with one win and one draw to their name, and perhaps most importantly a very polished performance against Benfica at the Estadio da Luz. They have the potential to prove the doubters wrong this season and manager Sérgio Vieira has shown he can organise his team. It is in defence where we have seen some standout performers for Estrela. Kialonda Gaspar has been a rock at the back, as well as Kenyan international Johnstone Omurwa, and with new signing Pedro Mendes to come in they are starting to form a very strong back line. Goalkeeper Bruno Brigio has also impressed making plenty of fine saves.
This defensive solidity is exactly what Porto have struggled against this season. Sérgio Conceição is yet to find his team’s key creator having lost Otávio to Saudi Arabia in the summer. Whether the international break has been enough time for new signing Ivan Jaime to convince his manager that he can be Porto’s new creative talisman we will have to see, but it feels like Porto need to change things soon rather than later, or they may drop more points.
Farense v Braga
Braga travel south to play Farense who, like Estrela, surprised a few people with their 5-0 demolition of Chaves in Jornada 3. Outside of that result however, goals have been a problem for Farense, but ex Porto striker Zé Luis is back in Portugal for the Algarve side, and will be looking to get his first win against one of his former clubs.
After their loss to Famalicão in the first game of the season Braga have looked okay, and a hard fought (and perhaps fortunate) win against Moreirense during the international break ensured they are still within touching distance of the teams at the top. Now that their gruelling Champions League qualification campaign is over they can start to try and gain some momentum, and with Ali Al-Musrati still at the club, despite interest from clubs in Turkey, he will be key to any future success. Despite the very impressive start to Vitor Carvahlo’s Braga career, there is a noticeable drop off when Musrati is not his midfield partner.
Vizela v Benfica
Benfica play Vizela whose best performance this season came in their last game against Gil Vicente. This dominant display probably deserved more than just a one-goal victory, the all-important strike in that game scored by left back Matheus Periera. They have exciting talent in attack in Nuno Moreira, Matais Lacava, and new star striker Samuel Essende. Former Benfica B player Diogo Nascimento is yet to get going but playing against his old club might be the motivation he needs.
Benfica are still looking to assert themselves as favourites for the league title, and though there have been some dazzling performances (such as last weekend’s 4-0 win over 10-man Vitória) we have also seen some weaknesses. With the Champions League now to contend with, Schmidt’s squad selection will be key and possibly the area he’s felt the most criticism.
Sporting v Moreirense
Sporting host Moreirense who out of the promoted teams this season have looked the best. They have a really balanced side with perhaps the most underrated midfield in the league, almost causing an upset against Porto in Jornada 1, getting a deserved first win of the season against Chaves a few weeks ago, before taking Braga right down to the wire in a phenomenal game which they were very unlucky to come away from with nothing. Gonçalo Franco looks to have everything to be one of the best midfielders in the league this season. How he copes with Sporting’s Morton Hjulmand will be fascinating to see.
Best of the rest
Outside of the Porto, Benfica, Braga and Sporting, Gil Vicente and Estoril face off in a match between two teams who’ve shown bright spells in the opening stages of the season, but not fully got into gear, whilst Arouca are at home to Casa Pia in a game which sees two of the league’s top scorers Cristo (3) and Clayton (3) face off.
The surprise early leaders Boavista are at home to a Chaves side that have lost all 4 games this season, and badly need a win to arrest their poor run of form and possibly save the head of coach José Gomes. Boavista, further boosted by the “Manager of the Month” award attributed to Petit, will be targeting another three points to keep them top of the tree as the league’s unlikely pace setters.
Five players to keep an eye on this weekend
Álvaro Djaló (Braga): Fresh from signing a new deal with Braga until 2027, Álvaro Djaló is making himself an undroppable figure in Braga’s side, the 24-year-old Spanish winger putting in a series of superb performances since the start of the season, capping them off with important goals, not least his world-class free kick which earned his side a point against Sporting before the international break.
Mehdi Taremi (Porto): The man needs no introduction, but has been uncharacteristically out of form at the start of this season, having played all of his football so far under the cloud of a transfer saga linking him to AC Milan, but which eventually saw him stay at Porto. With that episode now behind him, and following an international break which saw him score twice for Iran, look out for Taremi who will be hungry to get his long overdue first league goal of the season.
Samuel Essende (Vizela): Vizela lost one important striker this summer when Milutin Osmajić’s loan spell finished at the end of last season, but they may have picked up a worthy replacement in French striker Samuel Essende. The former PSG and Caen striker bagged two goals in the first two games of the season, and his imposing physique will make him a tough striker for any team to handle.
Alanzinho (Moreirense): Every team needs a little wizard in their side to make things happen, and Moreirense have theirs in Brazilian playmaker Alanzinho. Not only the best named player in the Primeira Liga, but an exciting talented attacking midfielder, whose dynamism and technical ability have helped him contribute one goal and two assists in four games against tough opponents. Likely to be Moreirense’s main danger man against Sporting.
Pedro Malheiro (Boavista): Who doesn’t love a right back who scores stunning goals to rival those of any winger in world football? Pedro Malheiro has made a habit of scoring stunners for Boavista, picking up this season where he left of last term, with two goals in his opening two games. There’s been plenty of standout players for Boavista this season, and Malheiro is fast making a name for himself as one of the league’s most exciting and interesting full backs.
by Barney Carter-Phillips (@LongBallFutebol)